La bella addormentata nel bosco

Can we move further down? – Even the lowest level of THE comedy (Dante) appears as plateau.

Today Habermas suggested at Elte university that the USNA should serve as model for the future of Europe.
Well, since Obama pleads for less war, more negotiation …. But:

Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will

Less war then.., sounds like being a bit pregnant or bit dead.
The good thing: mr JH did not suggest concrete candidates: Orbán, Berlusconi, Le Pen, …
So it is open for any others offer ….

Something else:

La bella addormentata nel bosco

At the moment I don’t want to talk about the performance – though it had been beautiful enough to be talked about.
Somewhat remarkable: the little applause …., and the many flashes from the smartphone cameras.

Sure, not at first glance – but there may be a link: we lean back, decorate the niceties with ribbons, celebrate them in protected areas – as lecture halls and living rooms, easily forgetting real beauties, real tensions and real dangers …
Living in worlds, only captured in photographs is as far from paradise as counting on the USNA as savour of peace and democracy.


Living on the Margins

Acknowledgements [1]

Kant is frequently coming to my mind these last day’s – one reason may be that Birgit mentioned him; to be honest she talked about her appreciation of the well-known categorical imperative, as he stated in the second half of the 18th century

act so that the maxim of thy will can always at the same time hold good as a principle of universal legislation

But there had been another reason for thinking about him, namely changing the train: the change from going high speed, non-stop from Roma to Milano, and then going on with the regional train to Pavia.

After arriving there, I receive an SMS from Lorenzo:

Welcome in padania

And for a philosopher, trained in the spirit of Western (which means very much German) philosophy there is only a small step from Pandania to Kant. Isn’t the “umbrella story” nearly as famous as the categorical imperative? The story of a philosopher of whom Heinrich Heine wrote:

The history of Immanuel Kant’s life is difficult to portray, for he had neither life nor history. He led a mechanically ordered, almost abstract bachelor existence in a quiet, remote little street in Königsberg, an old town on the northeastern border of Germany. I do not believe that the great clock of the cathedral there performed more dispassionately and methodically its outward routine of the day than did its fellow countryman Immanuel Kant. Getting up in the morning, drinking coffee, writing, giving lectures, eating, walking, everything had its appointed time, and the neighbors knew for certain that it was half-past three when Immanuel Kant, in his gray frock-coat, his Spanish cane in his hand, stepped out of his house and strolled to the little linden avenue called after him to this day the “Philosopher’s Path.” Eight times he walked up and down it, in every season of the year, and when the sky was overcast, or gray clouds announced a rain coming, old Lampe, his servant, was seen walking anxiously behind him with a big umbrella under his arm, like an image of Providence.[2]

I suppose there is a very close link between Kant’s very specific modesty and his imperative.


And in one way or another this had been the topic of the workshop on the 15th and 16th of May in Pavia, organised by the Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori, Pavia, as part of the Laboratorio EXPO+EXPO Milano 2015 in collaboration with the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – I already mentioned it earlier.

One general theme had been the search for responsibility. And of course this means today – and in the context of discussing sustainability (which is one of the focus points of the 2015-EXPO in Milano).

I am not entirely sure, but at least it looks as if I am accommodated these days in an old monastery. Pavia, at least if one comes from Rome, has indeed something of a sleepy little town. We frequently take this as being something negative, but I mean it here very much in a positive sense: People seem to be “in place”. Sure, this is also something, I frequently experience at home, but there it is more something that is located outside of real life: outside of the hassle and bustle of hectic daily life that is concerned with securing …, well, what is it actually securing?

One point, I found especially important during these last days had been the following: Frequently and actually increasingly we speak of responsibility and agency in a seemingly neutral way. We may reach from Kant who has the rational individual in mind – still as if there would be one and only one “unbound” rationality – to Smith who established at least the foundation for thinking in a very restricted way of the homo oeconomicus, leaving the Moral Sentiments outside, a kind of adjunct feature of wishful thinking, characterised in Chapter I of Part IV of the book by the words:

The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.

Sure, the chain of persons – philosophers, economists, lawyers and sociologists and others – could be continued. However, having said

leaving the moral sentiments outside, a kind of adjunct feature of wishful thinking

is not quite right and needs at least some qualification. “Wishfulness” in the given sense is about attempting to define appropriateness.

In this way, I am actually not too convinced if Heine had been right, speaking of Kant’s ideas as most revolutionary, radical, as he worded it: “world-crushing thoughts”. Actually, his thought had been very conservative, a matter of conserving the frontiers, encapsulating the world as it is. His categorical imperative had been finally depending on limited scope:

  • the accountable process – which then indeed had been translated into procedures
  • the elimination of content/substance
  • the limited, i.e. accountable space of action

Seen in this light we have to emphasise that the imperative is actually not an innate universal law as long as we cannot fill the formula substantially – broadly speaking it had been the expression of the appropriation of the now stabilised odern nation state by the citoyens. In other words: affirmation of power in space and time.


As valid as the point Niklas Luhmann made by pointing out the importance of Legimitation by Procedure is, he did not recognise the actually important difference between procedure and process. Sure, both have much in common at first sight; but finally processes are much more, are full of contradictions and connotations which cannot be overcome by simple reference to forms, be they understood as structure or as process.

Mauro van Aken stated in an article that had been also presented during the conference, dealing with Local Management of Common Resources:

Appropriating water, by means of various techniques and solidarity networks, is unavoidable for many farmers facing plant stress or patterns of distribution not adapted to local needs (on the contrary, they are often adapted according to water bureaucracy needs). Taking water out of turn constitutes in fact a ‘savoir-faire’, a set of incorporated practices that become more complex the greater technical complexity and lack of transparency of the distribution system. At the same time, it constitutes a way of making water a public sphere, more closely related to social relations and farming needs. The processes of local participation and institutional restyling according to the new developmental idiom are deeply linked to economic liberalization and neoliberal paradigms imported into the Middle East.[3]

With this we come easily to the in practice difficult to tackle point:

  • The point of reference for determining substance is people’s production and reproduction of everyday’s life. In this light we are dealing with ‘social production’ as production which is (i) a social process (acting together) but also (ii) a matter of producing relations (between people and between people and the natural environment)
  • Furthermore the point of reference is demarcation – as matter of appropriation; this is concerned with defining the means that are appropriate to the goal of production and the need and available means of production
  • Also of relevance is the determination of power structures – in the light of the before mentioned demarcation
  • Finally – but not least – we are confronted with the issue of resilience as matter of securing congruence.

We find this argument already outlined in the reflections on the Critique of Instrumental Reason, written by Max Horkheimer in 1947. He refers to a «new thinking» as subjectivist reason and writes:

In the subjectivist view, when «reason» is used to connote a thing or an idea rather than an act, it refers exclusively to the relation of such an object or concept itself. It means that the thing or the idea is good for something else. There is no reasonable aim as such, and to discuss the superiority of one aim over another in terms of reason becomes meaningless. From the subjective approach, such a discussion is possible only if both aims serve a third and higher one, that is, if they are means, not ends.

It is a multiple issue – requiring looking at economic issues, not least the question of inequality – be it in the commonly discussed understanding but also in terms of “environmental democracy”[4]; the mechanisms of “social support”, revisiting the typology provided by T.H. Marshall[5]; also the questions of rights and legality gain new momentum; and we may also look at mental health – latest since Durkheim’s work on Anomy, the other on Suicide we know that these are specifically relevant also in the context of causing mental illness as matter of power imbalances – sure, it comes not least to my mind as I wrote briefly about it, replying to a mail in which Joanne, a student from a couple of years back, asked for some general points on mental illness – so here the answer then:[6]

… if we look seriously at the “construction” of mental (ill-)health in daily life, we are actually dealing innately with soci(et)al power. And then you may of course come back to what we most likely (even for me teaching is somewhat repeating myself every year, though not literally) talked about: the twofold character of power (being able to, pouvoir, potere, machen) and control (as matter of violence, oppression etc.). On the other hand – and closely linked – the question of appropriation as matter of acquiring property and control over something (or somebody) and the appropriateness as matter of being appropriate, suitable for the subject, person, constellation in which we act.

If you put this into a matrix, you see where (abuse of) power is “causing” madness. Those points where you find massive fractures …. – of course, this is not least also a matter of degrees. Finally we are all somewhat mad: using power that we do not have, doing things we are not completely able to do etc.. I think there is nothing wrong with it – and we may even see here a germ of innovation etc. Though not being too agreeable on Bell in general, there is some validity in the point when he writes:

And even madness, in the writing of such social theorists as Michel Foucault and R.D. Laing, is now conceived to be a superior form of truth.[7]

And as much as I yalked here about mental (ill-)health, it is actually much more and more general: the issue of socio-environmental sustainability or as I wrote in the beginning: of “being in place”.


Pavia – Padania – it all comes back again to the point: Think Global, Act Local. Or the paradox may actually by that if we really think local, we may arrive at being able to act finally global.

Economically it is the simple thing that is so difficult to set into place: establishing the congruence of producing  use value and exchange value. At the end, at least demarcation should be mentioned again: competition, in particular competition in the global economy, but also more in general: as “competitive lifestyle” and “lifestyle of competitiveness” is actually one factor causing and expressing this shift from being guided by use-values to being guided by exchange values. The first is surely – as well – a matter of subsistence-sustainability based lifestyles where lifestyles are understood as matter of accumulation systems, entailing as such specific patterns of consumption.



[1]            My special thanks go to the team of IUSS, in particular to Enrica, Enrica and Nadia. I also want to thank the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli for making my participation in the workshop possible. I am especially grateful to Nadia for the interesting conversation the day after the workshop.

[2]            Copied from

[3]            Participating in Agribusiness: Contested Meanings of Rurality and Water in Jordan; in: Agrarian Transformation in the Arab World: Persistent and Emerging Challenges, H. Ayeb, R. Saad eds, Cairo Papers, 2014 Vol. 32. No. 2, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo

[4]            see my presentation, to be delivered in June in Hangzhou, PRC.

[5]            see Marshall, Tom H., 1950: Citizenship and Social Class; in: Citizenship and Social Class; Marshall, Tom H./Tom Bottomore; London et altera: Pluto Press1992

[6]            She thought as editor of a relevant book I could give her some advise – I edited the book Mental Health and Risk (New York: Nova Science 2006) together with Lydia Sapouna.

[7]            Bell, Daniel, 1976: The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism; New York: Basic : 34:

… because we have always done it that way …

It had been in 1648, that the Treaty of Westphalia had been signed (actually it had been a package on the Peace of Westphalia, comprising of different parts. This is also the explanation for ). Not 3,000 years ago, but surely a long time. And surely an occasion to maintain the insight into the importance of historical thinking, or should I say: thinking historically, in historical terms, considering the historical character of realities – taking change and changeability as serious matter?

Commonly it is understood that it is the most decisive date when it comes to the emergence and establishment of the modern nation state. And in so many cases we get still aware of the importance, the nation state being foundation for social insurance systems, for ongoing conflicts in international relationships and also the usually intergovernmental relationships, many of which we consider wrongly as being “global”.

In any case, being aware of the wider historical context, the “3,000 years” we may finally grasp that there is no reason to maintain the idea of nation states as indisputable foundation for politics and policies:

Let him who fails and to learn and mark

Three thousand years still stay,

Void of experience, in the dark,

And live from day to day[1]

(Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1814-1819: West-Eastern Divan; London/Toronto: J.M. Dent&Sons Ltd., 1914: 74 f.)

Sure, seemingly … we have always done it that way …; but actually it is not true. And we surely can change again.


[1] Original: Wer nicht von dreitausend Jahren // Sich weiß Rechenschaft zu geben, // Bleib im Dunkeln unerfahren, // Mag von Tag zu Tage leben. – West-östlicher Divan – Rendsch Nameh: Buch des Unmuts

Reality – complex and contradictory

Preparing mentally for the conference at the University of Pavia, where we will discuss tomorrow and Friday

Perspectives on Agency and Participation

Such topic surely has to acknowlegde the complexity of existence, and its contradiciton – something we as intellectuals easily forget. Seneca’s words may be taken as reminder:

Teniamo sempre questo verso sul cuore e sulle labbra: sono un uomo, e non guidico a me estraneo nulla di ciò che è umano.

Let this verse be in your heart and on your lips: I am a man; and nothing in man’s lot do I deem foreign to me.

Will then have the pleasure to work with Nadia on Saturday on a new publication on the topic. The challenge is to look for ways – gaps and bridges – between capability approach and social quality approach.

I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then

I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.

And knowing that they come from the beautiful book ‘Alice in Wonderland’ we may feel tempted to recommend Lewis Carroll’s book as reading for Joseph Stiglitz.

Sure, there is always some temptation to go to events like the one today at LUISS Università Guido Carli, listening to Joseph Stiglitz looking at the question

Can the Euro Be Saved? An Analysis of the Future of the Currency Union.

Part of the temptation may actually sometimes be simply seeing economics another time as questionable subject and as such not so much an academic discipline (sure, fouling the own nest – but there had been more outstanding economists that did so, thus I am only doing the usual thing: standing on the shoulders of giants, though I am not sure how much further I can see).

Be it as it is, my first irritation came right at the beginning of Joseph’s presentation, hearing about recession and subsequently recovery. The terms had been used in connection with the locating European economies in respect of their development.

It is an often-discussed point and an extremely tricky question – recession and depression had been mentioned in the presentation. And indeed it is somewhat funny then to hear that during the time Joseph Stiglitz worked for the World Bank the term depression had been admonished – it would sound so negative, and have such bad effects especially at times where people are already depressed. Still, the question remains if talking about a recession is not as misleading as the reference to depression. Isn’t it much more precise and honest to say what all this is about:

A crisis – and indeed a structural crisis.

And it is not a structural crisis just of the Euro. In fact we are confronted with a crisis of the fundamentals of the capitalist economy. Actually I talked with Marco today in the morning exactly about this question – and we should accept that it is a question and any claim to give an unequivocal answer is pretentious. Before shortly looking at this, there is at least the following that Joseph valuably emphasised: austerity policy is causing huge problems for a majority of the people, not contributing to solve economic problems but evoking a major social downgrading for many.

There are at least the following perspectives waiting for some thorough reflection. One can be seen as capitalism returning to its pure form. There is surely some truth saying that in one way or another, capitalism as it emerged and became known as Manchester Capitalism had been tamed: social and welfare state being one aspect, general working conditions and some forms of respect of workers (also political) rights have to be mentioned. So one way of looking at the current crisis and the harsh ‘restructuration’ may be interpreted in this way: we are returning to pure capitalism.

Another perspective, however, is to see the structural change in connection with some fundamental shifts caused by the development of the means of production. We may then suggest that we are witnessing the emergence of a new mode of production – it is not (necessarily) about capitalism or not-capitalism. It is just about recognising a more fundamental shift that is not directed towards establishing a status-quo-ante. Instead, it is about the emergence of a new system that goes ‘beyond’ the current system.

The social consequences then – not least visible in the development of precarity – would then be somewhat comparable with the development that went hand in hand with the emergence of capitalism. The machinery – i.e. progress – showed devastating consequences for example for the weavers who lost their work. At the same time, the new inventions allowed also progress by way of developing new ways of work and working conditions – objectively surely progressive at the time.

Coming back to the presentation then, there had been two striking points:

* Stiglitz did not engage in any of those questions that had been raised in the 2009-report The Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress’ (see my own comments specifically on this report from a Social Quality Perspective in the article Economic Performance, Social Progress and Social Quality [International Journal of Social Quality 2(1), Summer 2012: 43–57 © Zhejiang University, European Foundation on Social Quality and Berghahn Journals 2012 doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2011.010204]).

* This means at the same time that he oriented very much on a traditional perspective: economic recovery, seen as matter of industrial policy.

Actually I would agree with the need of recovery, but only under strict observation of the following qualification:

  • It has to be a matter of ‘covery’, meaning a policy that is fundamentally oriented on covering the entirety of economic and social challenges in an integrated way and also covering on a global level the entirety of the population – surely something on which we can easily find agreement. – Actually one of Joseph’s remark pointed into this direction, saying that there cannot be a surplus in all countries – yes, and indeed something also Germany has to accept.
  • Talking about recovery means that we have to find an integrated approach in terms of bringing the issue of soci(et)al sustainability thoroughly on the agenda. This is not just about ‘balancing different policy areas’ as it had been issued in the Economic Performance and Social Progress-report. A much more fundamental consideration is required.
  • This means not least to revisit the hugely valuable work issued by Karl Polanyi in his opus magnum on ‘The Great Transformation’, talking about the political and economic origins of our time (if I am not mistaken there is a more or less new edition of the book available – with a foreword/introduction by Stiglitz). Polanyi looked extensively at processes of dis- embedding, i.e. the separation of ‘the economy’ from the soci(et)al context. If we talk about the lost connection between finance and real economy, we surely have to look at the underlying loss of the connection between ‘society’ and ‘economy’.
  • This brings me to the last qualification when looking at the need for recovery. In a contribution I wrote together with Marica Frangarkis, we spoke about The need for a radical ‘growth policy’ agenda for Europe at a time of crisis (in: Dymarski, Wlodzimierz/Marica Frangakis/Leaman, Jeremy, 2104: The Deepening Crisis of the European Union: The Case for Radical Change; Poznań: Poznań University of Economics Press, 2014). And the kind of recovery, and even the way of thinking of recovery has to start at this point: the quid pro quo. It can only make sense if we start by overcoming the dichotomisation between economic and social thinking, demanding for both a sustainable orientation.

Indeed, the cart in front of the horse is always in danger to be pulled back – and at least this is something where I would strongly agree with Stiglitz: Austerity policies never did any good. But for the rest, we should remind ourselves of the little discussion between Alice and the cat.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

“I don’t much care where –”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

(from Alice in Wonderland)

Time – On Whose Side?

The problem surely is one of change, and thus of time – and this, metaphorically, may be seen in the change of art. There is the famous failure of Leonardo: the fresco, applying a wrong formula. The problem with the technique is that one is not allowed to make any mistake: the paint goes immediately into the ground and nothing can be changed. Leonardo (as far as I remember for reasons of time pressure), wanted to take a short-cut to a majestic goal – and a short time after he finished his most beautiful painting it “collapsed”. Compare Zivny with this: there is now majestic goal – a modest one of creating, or even only shaping ephemeral beauty:

“Sand is one of the few materials I work with, and I like that it is ephemeral and the sand sculpture disappears.”

The tension, it only comes right now to my mind, is one of fascinating depth: it is the tension between living for the majestic goal of humankind and the ephemeral vision of individuals.

Sure, both have their value, and beauty …. – or at least truth.

But the challenge an question is: (How) Can we bring this together? – The other day I read in an article by John L. Allen Jr.

Americans await things to happen immediately, and generally interpret delay in terms of denial, incompetence, of cover-up. Rome[1], to put the point charitably, is a culture that puts a high premium on patience, and often interprets ‘rapid response’ as immaturity, superficiality, or going off half-cocked.[2]

And just having read



How much is Enough? Money and the Good Life

recently, I am wondering if there is really not more to say than directing moral appeals? After economics – as matter of science and politics – obviously failed, the only way out seems to be in some kind of prayers and quest for morality?

The reality came (another time) to my mind when I went for my earlyish round – the 1st of May 2014, about sixish passing Termini, the central train station:

All fine, but … – Italy, the country of kisses and light heartedness – but at that time in the morning at the said place: facing the homeless; if one leaves the shops at day time – the shops for ordinary people or those where people buy who do not know what to do with the money – it means too often looking into the faces of beggars; if one then is getting aware of the country’s lack of a revolution, the nobility still having the remote places for their festive gatherings (which in fact are part of daily life), …

Well, May-Day then: a huge people’s gathering, in the park. At least something: free sunshine for all.

No, I do not blame anybody: at least not those who enjoy as long as they can enjoy.

And though I am seemingly talking about Italy and Rome, I actually do not really talk about this place. What makes it – perhaps – special is a higher degree of visibility of certain problems …, problems that are also visible in other places, “wiped away” by some kind of “silent militarism”: the war that is at the external borders arguing with noisy sabre-rattling, has many disciplinary forms when directed internally. Later this year I will address this during a conference against militarism. My part will be looking at

The inner mobilisation of Europe – youth unemployment, racism and modernised forced labour.

Enough is enough – indeed it is not such a difficult-to-answer question: enough of violent policies, of policies that are utilising human beings as a kind canon fodder for profit-first-economies.

A reminder, a famous passage in a footnote in Chapter 31 of the first volume of Capital

―Capital is said by a Quarterly Reviewer to fly turbulence and strife, and to be timid, which is very true; but this is very incompletely stating the question. Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent. will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent. certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent., positive audacity; 100 per cent. will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave-trade have amply proved all that is here stated.‖ (T. J. Dunning, l. c., pp. 35, 36.)


[1]            meant to be the catholic church

[2]            John L. Allen Jr., 2013: The Church’s Message and The financial World: Lost in Translation; in: Institutions, Society and Markets: Towards a New International Balance?; A Cura di Alberto Quadrio Curzio/Giovanni Marseguerra; Vatican City: Libreria Editirice Vaticana: 141-155; here: 141 f.